Episode 70: Distilling Rye Whiskey - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Episode 70: Distilling Rye Whiskey with Nicole Austin, Todd Leopold, and Greg Metze

Distilling rye whiskey podcast

Over the past 20 years, rye whiskey has moved from being an also-ran to taking the spotlight, with bartenders and distillers nationwide rediscovering its promise. Our March/April 2023 issue dives deep into today’s world of rye, and for this episode, we talk with three distillers about their enthusiasm for making rye whiskey: Nicole Austin from Cascade Hollow Distilling, Todd Leopold from Leopold Bros. Distillery, and Greg Metze from Old Elk.

Radio Imbibe is the audio home of Imbibe magazine. In each episode, we dive into liquid culture, exploring the people, places, and flavors of the drinkscape through conversations about cocktails, coffee, beer, spirits, and wine. Keep up with us on InstagramPinterest, and Facebook, and if you’re not already a subscriber, we’d love to have you join us—click here to subscribe. 

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Paul ClarkeHey, everybody. Welcome back to Radio Imbibe from Imbibe magazine. I’m Paul Clarke, Imbibe’s editor in chief. And if you’re a subscriber to Imbibe, then somewhere on your coffee table or in your bag right now, you’ve probably got a copy of our latest issue for March/April. We’ve got a cover story in that issue about rye whiskey, and in the 17 years I’ve been writing and editing with Imbibe, this has got to be one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever worked on. 

There are a couple of reasons for that. Part of it’s sentimental. The first feature I ever wrote for this magazine was in late 2006 on what at the time seemed to be the great comeback of rye whiskey from its 20th-century near-demise. At that time, craft cocktail bars were rediscovering a love for rye and the way it works in Manhattans and Sazeracs and many, many other cocktails. So it’s been interesting for me to come back to that same story all these years later and to trace how that initial spark of interest has gone fully supernova among bartenders and distillers.  

Another reason I really enjoyed working on this rye feature is because the category’s attracting the interest of some of the most talented and fascinating distillers in America. They’re reinventing whiskey mash bills, they’re digging in the heritage grain varieties. They’re even resuscitating production methods and distilling technology that haven’t been used in generations. So for this episode, we’re talking about the nuts and bolts of making rye whiskey with several distillers who’ve truly left their mark on the category. 

To kick things off, I wanted to share a conversation I had recently with Nicole Austin and Todd Leopold. Nicole is the general manager and distiller for Cascade Hollow Distilling in Tullahoma, Tennessee, which produces, among other things, George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey and George Dickel Bourbon, and Todd is the distiller and co-founder of Leopold Brothers Distillery in Denver. In 2015, Todd installed the historically influenced three-chamber still for making rye whiskey, and introduced that spirit several years later. Even more interesting in some ways is a collaboration whiskey that he put together with Nicole, sold as George Dickel x Leopold Brothers Collaboration Blend, that merges together the rye from Leopold’s three-chamber still with a rye produced in Tennessee on a column still.  

Here’s that conversation with Todd and Nicole as they talk about how that project came together and what possibilities they see in rye whisky. 


Paul ClarkeNicole and Todd, welcome to Radio Imbibe. 

Nicole AustinHey Paul, thanks for having us. 

Todd LeopoldThank you for having us. 

Paul ClarkeSo I wanted to talk to you because we’re working on a large feature for our March/April issue about rye whiskey, looking at how dynamic it is as a spirits category. And I think one of the things that underscores some of the really cool stuff happening in rye right now is the collaboration release between George Dickel and Leopold Brothers, merging your two rye whiskeys together. So I want to talk about that a little bit to get an idea of how this came about and how you’re pursuing it, but also to talk about what each of you is doing individually at your distilleries with rye whiskey, because that’s pretty cool, too. So let’s talk about the collaboration first. What was the genesis of that? How did that, you know, how did that take place? 

Nicole AustinIt really starts with Todd. It’s been, you know, he’s been working on it for a decade and I got to, like, come in at the end. So Todd. I’ll let you. 

Todd LeopoldIt was planned that a long time ago, together with the purchase of the still, we knew that we wanted to release not just one whiskey that hasn’t been seen in decades, but two. So where it came from, I have to start with the three-chamber still. So I came across the mention of the three-chamber still, and mention that it was the tool of choice before Prohibition in the 1800s to make rye whiskey, in a document that the IRS put together just after the Bottled-in-Bond act, and they put they were basically trying to prepare what are now called the standards of identity, and what they did was they did a survey of 30-plus distilleries all over the country and look at everything from the type of still that they use to the warehouse. Was it heated? Was it not? Did the rye whiskey have corn in it? They’re looking at the recipes, all these different things to try and map out what the rules are going to wind up being, right? To have a, have a look [at] an aggregate of what American distilling thinks is bourbon and thinks is rye. All the rye distillers that they surveyed, except for one, used the three-chamber still. 

And when I saw this about 15 years ago, 16 now, I guess like so many others, I wonder, ‘what the heck is a three-chamber still?’ I started doing more and more research and came across documents that had some pictures. No engineering drawings, but just, you know, kind of artist renditions is what I would call them. They’re not very accurate. Of how it looked and generally how it operated, and what really kind of tilted the scales and got me to convince my brother to finally pony up the cash for it was an article on the largest distillery in the world at the time, which was the Hiram Walker plant in Peoria, Illinois. And they had both the [three] chamber still and column stills to make rye. And of course, the reason they were doing that is they were following the same model that we had both up in Canada and in the UK, which is to take a very heavily flavored whiskey and blend it with a lighter distilled whiskey off of a column. You know, of course in the UK, that means pot distillation. But in this case, we’re talking about taking the heavily flavored and very heavy-bodied and very aromatic three-chamber and blending it together. 

So as we were coming out, people didn’t know that I had in the back of my head that we’re not just going to release the three-chamber on its own. We’re also gonna release a mingling of the three-chamber together with the column, and what I did was I reached out to Nicole. We’ve been friends for over a decade, and she just knows everybody. She’s one of those people that knows everybody. And I didn’t think she made rye whiskey, right? She’s at Dickel. And I thought, you know, Tennessee whiskey and bourbon is what they do. I had no idea. So I was calling her for ideas. You know, who did she respect? Who did she think would be fun to blend with the three-chamber rye? And she just replied, ‘I’ll call you tomorrow,’ and then Nicole can take why she called me the next day. 

Nicole AustinSo I had actually been distilling some rye whiskey on site at Cascade Hollow for just over four years when Todd called. And you know my passion, in American whiskey in particular, has really been around blending, you know, and talking about blending in American whiskey. And especially for craft distilleries, I think that’s such a tool to take whiskeys from good to great, you know, to really be purposeful and impactful around blending. So I had this rye whiskey that we had been distilling, but honestly didn’t really know what I was gonna do with it in that moment that, you know, it was quite good. It didn’t really match any existing styles and that’s when Todd called me, I was just so excited about [it]. I mean, one, the opportunity to work with Todd, obviously it’s super respect to him as a producer and as a friend. But to really bring back an American blending project, you know, and especially something like this that showcases that tool so well and how it can be used and why it can be used and how it makes something great. So I knew it was going to be a pretty big lift for Diageo to do something like this. It’s pretty out-of-the-box for them, but I’m fortunate to have, you know, a great boss who really supports me, so I called him and was like, hey, I wanna do this like, really passionate about it. Really, really believe in this, you know, will you have my back? And of course, he said yes, since that’s when I called Todd back and said, let’s do it. 

Paul ClarkeCool, excellent. And without going too far down the technology rabbit hole, you know, I will mention that people who want to learn more about how a three-chamber still operates should visit the Leopold Brothers website because there’s a great YouTube video on there that I learned so much from about this technology. But without going too far down that rabbit hole, when you’re talking about the three-chamber still versus the column still that you’re using in Cascade Hollow, what are the different kinds of properties that each one lends to the whiskey coming off that makes them suitable for this kind of blend? 

Nicole AustinWell, so I can talk about the column still, right? And at Cascade Hollow, ours is a bit unique. We actually call it the Frankenstill and that we have sort of retrofitted some additional rectification sections to the side of the top of our stripping still. So we have a pretty unique amount of flexibility in our column distillation. And what that lends to the whiskey in general and specifically in our application is as Todd described, a lighter style, right? The flexibility allows us to fine-tune which aspects we capture, and in this our rye really expresses a lot of stone fruit character and it makes for, I would call it, you know, a nice kind of scaffold on which to layer the three-chamber rye, so it’s good. It’s good at kind of pulling things apart from one another and giving you sort of a real clear kind of one-note base to build on top of. 

Todd LeopoldThe fun thing for that for me is that’s the hole that needs to be plugged, and it’s why we’re so excited. When Nicole sent her her first cuts at blending through the, you know, Postal Service, I’m like, oh, my God, this is going to be a lot of fun. The way that I distill and ferment, and the way that this still works, it does not produce those stone fruits, it’s more lighter fruits, pears and peaches and, you know, apple. And it really places an emphasis on pulling floral notes out. So, so, lavender, elderflower, that sort of thing. And then very, very big rye, you know, kind of rye bread flavors. And when she first sent that out, it was really, that was a very fun day because in addition to everything else, it, it explained, oh, this is why you blend it. 

Nicole AustinIt became so obvious when they come together. 

Todd LeopoldYeah, that, you know, the three-chamber on its own is a very interesting animal, like, you know, you could liken it to why you would want to, you know, some people adore Laphroaig, you know, really, really big, you know, salty, smoky notes to it. But you can really make that sing if, you know, if you use it as a blending component in Johnnie Walker or other vattings like that. So for me as a small producer, you know, I joked with her when she said ‘well, you know, how are we going to handle this blend?’ And she’s an actual blender. I explained that I haven’t, I don’t think I’ve mingled more than six barrels together. I wouldn’t really call that blending. It sort of is, but it sort of isn’t, but it immediately pulled me into the world that Nicole is describing where you know you, you understand that some of these more interesting and flavorful barrels are really kind of in the end designed for, they’re designed for blending. So you understand why that network existed in America all those years ago. And it’s just fun being a little part of that. And I think this is, you know Nicole is that you know, at the head of rebirthing blending in America and I think this project I’m hoping is very much just the start really. 

Paul ClarkeAnd you know, you both mentioned the aromatics and the flavors coming through, but the thing that I noticed the first time I opened the bottle and dipped into it was the texture, the body to it. It’s really, you know, there’s a chewiness there, but it’s not overwhelming like, you know, Todd, you mentioned getting into a big hearty single malt, sometimes it can be kind of a loud talker and if you’re in that kind of mood then that’s perfect. But sometimes you like to have it kind of moderated out. I notice that texture and especially of course you know this being a rye whiskey, especially a historically oriented rye whiskey similar to something you would have found in the late 19th century. Of course, I mixed it into Manhattan and, man, that works. You know, just the body, the flavors. Was that part of the, you know, did you look at that as you’re putting all this together? 

Nicole AustinOh yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s what this whiskey is for, right? Like, that’s the time period in American whiskey that we’re resurrecting. My family has a long-standing holiday tradition of perfect Manhattans on Christmas Eve and so I absolutely have that in mind. And the body that you’re talking about, you know, I completely agree. And that’s a lot of that’s actually coming kind of surprisingly, I think from the column distillate, that creaminess. It’s really interesting how the two of them married together and really showcase what’s best about each. 

Todd LeopoldWhen you’re talking about the, you know, robustness between the two ryes, these things are relative obviously and so you know that big gorgeous stone fruit note from the Cascade Hollow rye is, to my nose and palate, is very robust. And in the three-chamber, it just simply isn’t, isn’t there at all. But speaking to mixing for cocktails, the three-chamber does not do well in a Manhattan at all. There’s some other functions in New York Sours, and there are some others that I think play very well, but again, it’s one of those things where it’s ‘oh, that’s why. That’s why you blend. That’s why you want to tame these flavors.’ And Paul, you hit it, you hit it perfectly where you know when you’re in the mood to just sit and sip on the three-chamber, it’s just a wonderful experience and the flavors are in layers. But when you’re not in that mood, you want to reach over for the collaboration and it’s just nice, you know. Now as we, you know, kind of discussed briefly, before we went on air, you actually have some choices as a fan of rye whiskey these days that you did not have 20 years ago. 

Paul ClarkeYeah, absolutely. And you know we were mentioning before I started recording of how the first time I wrote about rye whiskey for Imbibe’s January 2007 issue. It was in 2006. I was doing a tasting and you know, I think maybe I got like nine ryes and most of them you know were from Kentucky and very kind of like, you know, there were some differences between them of course, but like very much that kind of uniform Kentucky rye that we would think of now, and the world of rye whiskey has really expanded in that time. And you two have obviously been very much a part of that as distillers. Is this kind of an interesting and exciting time for you to be looking at this, not only what you’re doing, but what your colleagues and some of the other folks in the industry are doing with rye whiskey? 

Nicole AustinOh, I mean, it’s thrilling. I think, you know, I don’t want to speak for you guys, but I feel, you know, 10 years ago, a lot of the stories […] told to me about rye whiskey were so one note, you know. Like, rye is spicy, right? Like, rye is this way. It has this kind of pepper. And like, that’s what rye is and it was very narrow and really polarizing, and so it is hugely exciting to me to really just crack that wide open and show what rye whiskey can be, which is so much more. And the range of, you know, aromatics that you can get out of rye is so thrilling to me. I mean, the floral notes that show up in Todd’s three-chamber. I’ve never smelled anything like that in American whiskey. And so it’s exciting to me to really open it up, and that’s what makes blending fun, is when you have really distinct marks to work with that you can really, you know, tweak so that that’s hugely exciting to me. Just to open up what we thought was true and learn that it’s, you know, so much bigger than that. 

Todd LeopoldYeah, I very much, you know, think it’s in its infancy and we’re all excited to see if we’re going to wind up seeing some regionality. And you know, I can tell you from experience that where the rye grows matters and it’s a much more aromatic grain than corn. You know, it just is. So you know, depending on what variety we use. So for the three-chamber still we brought back a variety called Abruzzi that was bragged about in the 1800s, in particular by Maryland distillers. So you could find some older, I found some old Maryland agricultural records discussing it and how the Maryland distilleries making Maryland rye really refer to Abruzzi. The Pennsylvania distillers, the research I did came across Rosen rye as another variety that was kind of distinctive, you know, part of it is it is a necessity is the mother of invention in the sense that, OK, this grows really well here. Part of it is that. But part of it is it has the attributes that the distillers are looking for and you’re seeing more and more distillers across the country that are starting to plant both old and new varieties of the rye grain and it’s just such an expressive plant. And having worked with these, you know, both modern and, you know these heirloom varieties of rye, OK, they’re night and day. They are completely different with the aromas and flavors that you get out of it. And I completely agree with Nicole. It was very much the rye whiskey has to taste like this. And I think in particular, what Nicole and I have done is said no. It does not. And it’s fun to be one of the distillers working and pulling the category in fun and new directions and old directions, too, right? 

Paul ClarkeRight, right. And this started as a one-off and we’re now in the second iteration of the collaboration. This is going to be an ongoing thing. Is that correct? 

Nicole AustinYeah, I think you know, we try to, I think, always hoping, believing that it could, you know, go on. But anytime you try something this out of the norm, you never know how it’s gonna go, so. I think we always had some pretty big dreams for this whiskey, and it was just really exciting to see how well the first one was received. So yeah, definitely big plans. 

Paul ClarkeAnd you both obviously make other whiskeys and other rye whiskeys as we look ahead in the years to come. Are you enjoying the explorations and should we think of other things rye whiskey related in both of your futures? 

Todd LeopoldWell, I can say, for one thing, I’m not sure you’re aware, but we have a malt house here and we do our own floor malting. So the three-chamber rye is 20 percent floor malt and 80 percent of that Abruzzi rye that I mentioned. And having a malt house and having somebody like Nicole who wants to play with aromas and flavors, we’ve got some very interesting projects that are going on that are ongoing. Some are done and some are ongoing and we plan to explore the category and have as much fun as we possibly can. It’s great. I’m 25 years into my career and I’m allowed to be more creative than ever and the public is excited and willing and interested in rye whiskey and what it can be. And it’s fun to be a small player in that. 

Nicole AustinYeah, I feel lucky to work with someone like Todd. I think we’re both deeply, deeply curious people about what is possible. But you know, really balance, I think with a lot of respect and reverence for the history of this category and what it can be and exploring. But still trying to keep things, you know, balanced and lovely. It’s easy to make stuff that’s weird. It’s hard to make stuff that’s weird and good. I think, my ambition, always as a producer, is to just walk that middle line. It’s just one of the reasons I’m so proud of this collaboration whiskey cuz, to me, this is just right in the middle of the dartboard of like you’ve never tasted whiskey like this before, but at the same time, you don’t need an explanation to appreciate it. You know, as a beautiful rye whiskey. 

Paul ClarkeRight. It’s something that you were waiting for that you didn’t realize you were waiting for.

Nicole AustinCompletely. 

Todd LeopoldI like that. 

Paul ClarkeWell, Nicole, Todd, thank you so much for taking the time to go over the whiskey with me. I’m really excited to see what you guys get up to in the future and thanks again, I appreciate this.  

Todd LeopoldThank you for having us. 

Nicole AustinWe appreciate you. Thanks so much for the opportunity. 


Paul ClarkeHead online to georgedickel.com to learn more about this collaboration blend and how to try it out for yourself and head to leopoldbrothers.com to learn more about the three-chamber still and to view a video of how that project came together. We’ve got links to those websites in our episode notes.  

Now, if you’ve been drinking rye whiskey at all in the last 15 years, then chances are very high that you’ve had a cocktail made with rye whiskey that originated at a former Seagram’s distillery in Indiana, most recently known as MGP and bottled and sold under a wide range of labels. One of the people behind that influential rye is Greg Metze, who spent nearly 40 years at that distillery, 14 of those as master distiller. Greg’s now in Colorado and working as the master distiller for Old Elk Distillery, where he’s taking another crack at that familiar high rye mash bill, and with really delicious results. I chatted with Greg while reporting on this rye feature. Here’s our conversation from that time.  


Paul ClarkeGreg, welcome to Radio Imbibe. 

Greg MetzeThank you, Paul. Been looking forward to getting to chat with you again. 

Paul ClarkeAnd you know, we had chatted a while back about what you’re doing at Old Elk with all of the whiskies you’re making. And one of those whiskies that we talked about and tasted is your straight rye. I wanted to get in touch with you again and to share this conversation with our audience because we’re including a large feature on rye whiskey in our March/April issue and your experience and perspective on rye is really invaluable. Before we get into what you’re doing right now with Old Elk, bring folks up to speed on what your resume looks like when we’re talking rye whiskey because you’ve done this a time or two. 

Greg MetzeWell, I’ve actually had about 45 years’ experience with rye whiskey and the mash bill really that we made famous at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, it’s a 95 percent rye, 5 percent malt mash bill, which you know relative to other rye whiskeys on the market, I would call that an extreme rye rye whiskey mash bill and from a technical perspective, it’s really difficult to produce and have the quality come out the way you would want it to or expected to so. You know, Seagram’s really over a course of probably 35-40 years, you know, actually perfected how to produce that mash bill and have it come out a world-class quality. 

Paul ClarkeAnd you had worked at that old Seagram’s plant and that’s now MGP, you’d worked there for several decades. 

Greg MetzeYes, I worked there 38 years before I left that facility to join Old Elk and I was a master distiller there from 2002 to 2016 when I left to join Old Elk. So yeah, I spent 24 years under the Seagram umbrella, which is really where I got the best training in the world relative to producing products like that rye whiskey mash bill. 

Paul ClarkeAnd you know, you mentioned that 95 percent rye mash bill they’ve been doing. That had originally been created to use as a blending whiskey, is that correct? 

Greg MetzeYeah. You know, that was a blending component for you know, many of the Seagram brands over many years. Yeah, it really, you know, when rye whiskey started becoming popular then yeah, we certainly entered the market with that mash bill in the experience we had with that mash bill to offer it as a rye whiskey by itself. 

Paul ClarkeAnd during your time there as master distiller as you mentioned starting in 2002 and continuing on during that time, we started to see that 95 percent rye whiskey that you’ve been producing starting to circulate out there under a number of different brands and really kind of, you know, making lots of inroads in the market. What was that like to watch from your perspective? You know, here’s something that you’ve made for blending and now you’re seeing, you know, a lot of people really going for it? 

Greg MetzeWell, it was really quite gratifying to, you know, have a product that took many years to really perfect and, you know, without bragging, I would say that nobody else in the world could produce that mash bill to the level of quality that we were able to in Lawrenceburg. So you know everybody that was part of that development and part of that program has always been proud of the work we do and has been very gratifying to, you know, see the consumer appreciate all those efforts. 

Paul ClarkeAnd you know, how did moving to the role that you have now at Old Elk in Colorado, how did that give you an opportunity to take that kind of experience and that knowledge that you had and really kind of open it up and show people what you could do with that? 

Greg MetzeWell, for me it’s been a terrific opportunity and really that was one of the several good reasons that I left that facility after 38 years, but mainly to give me an opportunity to, you know, promote, you know, what I learned over the course of my 38 years down there at that facility and share it with the new company and help them build brands from the ground up. 

Paul ClarkeSo with that 95 percent rye mash bill, that high rye mash bill high rye marker, it’s a big departure from what was there before when we think about, you know, the Kentucky-based ryes that a lot of them are out there. Why have you chosen to continue aiming at that high rye mark with what you’re doing at Old Elk? 

Greg MetzeWell, I think first and foremost, you know the flavor profile of that particular product is really entirely different than, you know, all the other rye whiskeys on the shelf. And there’s really two aspects of Old Elk’s DNA that really fits. You know, Old Elk is built on world-class quality products first, and secondly, they’ve always wanted to be different than everybody else on the shelf. 

Paul ClarkeRight, right. And you know, you mentioned every other producer on the shelf. In the last 10 to 15 years as craft distilling has taken off across the country, we’ve seen a lot of people turning to rye whiskey. Now with so many distillers coming online, we see so many people doing rye and working with rye in different perspectives. From your experience, rye is not necessarily an easy thing to work with technically. What are some of the challenges that you run into when you’re making whiskey with this grain? 

Greg MetzeReally, rye brings substantial difficulty to the table from the fermentation part of it. And really when you’re producing any whiskey the, you know, the real technical aspects of having the quality come out, it’s really built around the fermentation process. Whiskey distilling is really fairly simple and the object for the distilling portion is just to bring all the flavor components that you develop in the fermenter over to the bottle. But probably the largest difficulty in fermenting rye is it has a severe propensity to foam. And then probably, the other thing that we learned about that particular mash bill is that because we only cooked it at 148 degrees, we called that an infusion cooking process developed by Seagrams. You know, we only heated it up to 148 degrees, so we weren’t really killing any of the naturally occurring enzymes that come with the grains. And because of that, the fermentation rates were variable, almost every day, and we would have to make adjustments every day to compensate for the rate at which those fermenters were fermenting at. And again, one of probably the biggest thing we learned is that to get the quality to come out, you had to distill those fermenters as they were finishing fermentation. And so your distilling rates had to be adjusted based on the fermenting rates that you had. And when that was all really dictated by the amount of enzymes coming in with the grain as well as the ones you were adding. So there was a lot of oversight that we had to do every day and then many adjustments that we had to do every day to keep everything where it needed to be. 

Paul ClarkeAnd that’s, you know, regarding the fermentation aspect of it, when working with rye as compared to something like a corn-based whiskey or a barley-based whiskey, do you have to think differently in terms of maturation? Are there other opportunities you can think of in terms of maturation when you’re working with a rye distillate? 

Greg MetzeWell, frankly speaking, we treated the maturation part the same as we did bourbons. I think we found, at least in my experience, had found that the sweet spot for rye maturation was 4-8 years. Maybe up to 10, which was very compatible or very, very much the same as what we were finding in the bourbons that we were creating. Now I will tell you that since I’ve gotten into wheat-based mash bills, I have found that those sweet spots are more like the six to 10 or 6 to 12. So they are, I don’t want to say substantially different, but they are certainly different than what I’ve experienced over most of my career with the corn-based and rye-based mash bill. 

Paul ClarkeAnd you know, you mentioned working with wheat and obviously with corn as well, as a distiller who works with a variety of grains in making American whiskey, what kind of a tool does rye give you in terms of aromatic compounds, flavor compounds to introduce into a whiskey? And how does that relate to things like corn, wheat or barley? Is rye, you know, does it give you like a really good tool or is it something need to be very specific with? 

Greg MetzeFor me, I think it just brings a really nice spice characteristic. And you know what I see when I look at congener profiles in the rye in that 95 percent rye mash bill is just a really nice clove-type spice characteristic, which is very indicative of rye grain. With the wheats we’ve actually have seen other spice characteristics, if you will, not as pronounced as what you’ll see with the rye, but you can certainly see if you compare a 95 percent rye mash bill with a 95 percent wheat mash bill. It’s very obvious what the different grains bring to the table relative to the flavor characteristics. Corn base, bourbons, and so forth, you know, they always bring what I call the really robust characteristics that you associate with a bourbon, and if you’ve got a high rye content in that bourbon mash bill, that clove spice characteristic certainly carries over, you know, not nearly as pronounced as it does in the 95 percent rye mash bill, but certainly does carry over. So when you start having the opportunity to, you know, blend those different grains and different ratios, it certainly has an impact on the flavor profile that you wind up with. 

Paul ClarkeAnd I mentioned earlier that there are now scores of American whiskies on the market, including your own and whiskies that you had touched in the past. As someone who’s worked with this style with rye whiskey for so many years, does it feel like rye is finally getting some of the attention and recognition that it’s deserved? 

Greg MetzeOh yeah, it’s, again, it’s always been one of my favorites to produce, and that’s primarily because it’s from a technical aspect that’s really difficult to do it. It comes with lots and lots of challenges and when you produce it and the quality comes out the way you expect it to, it’s certainly gratifying. But, yeah, I think rye whiskey is becoming incredibly popular over the last 10 to 15 years and you know it continues to gain traction, so, you know, it, to me, it’s one of the four core categories of American whiskey. You’ve got the traditional bourbons, you’ve got rye whiskey, wheat whiskey, and wheat bourbon. And the, you know, Old Elk is certainly a player in all four of those categories at this stage. 

Paul ClarkeExcellent, excellent. Well, Greg, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and to share some of your insight and some of your experience with rye whiskey. Appreciate it very much. 

Greg MetzeYeah, certainly. My pleasure. Thanks for having me. 


Paul ClarkeHead to oldelk.com to learn more about Greg’s current rye whiskey project and all the whiskies he’s a part of today. I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into rye whiskey distilling. We’ve got plenty of recipe ideas, bottle recommendations, and other stories for you online at imbibemagazine.com. Subscribe to Radio Imbibe on your favorite podcast app to keep up with all of our future episodes. You can also follow us on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook for all of your social media needs. And if you’re not already a subscriber to print and digital issues of Imbibe, then let’s change that. Just follow the link in this episode’s notes and we’ll be happy to help you out. I’m Paul Clarke. This is Radio Imbibe. Catch you next time. 

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